Wooden Smoothing Planes

wooden smoothing plane
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Review By: I.Ball

Manufacturer: Various

Tool Type: Wooden Planes

Plane Type: Smoothing

The old British wooden smoothing planes were sold throughout the world in huge numbers to the point over 100 years on since the decline of the use of the wooden smoothing plane these planes continue to regularly surface.

The typical traditional wooden smoothing plane consisted of a wooden body, a hardwood wedge made with the same wood as the body, an old style plane iron and cap iron.

The body shape of the wooden smoothing plane was often referred to as a coffin shaped smoothing plane. They were usually in the region of 6 inch – 8 inch long and usually fitted with a 51mm (2 inch) wide plane blade.

There were larger versions and smaller versions, including miniature wooden smoothing planes.

old wooden smoothing plane

Beech was the main type of wood used to make wooden smoother planes as it was easily available in Britain and because of this availability it was cheap compared to other hardwoods.

These planes were made in other types of wood with examples I have seen including: fruitwoods, mahogany, boxwood and rosewood.

Boxwood examples are particularly popular as they are extremely hard wearing.

Due to the nature of wood, some of these old wooden smoothing planes would inevitably suffer some wear / damage to the sole / mouth from time to time where the plane has caught something such as a nail.

As a result of these damages and potential damages, old wooden smoother planes can reasonably regularly been seen with repairs to the sole where a new sole portion of sole has been inlaid into the plane (at the front / mouth) or even a whole new sole has been added.

marples wooden smoothing plane

Quite often partial repairs to the sole are made using boxwood or some other very hard wearing wood.

There are also wooden smoothing planes with the front end having a metal sole as well as wooden planes having the whole sole with a metal sole; the metal is usually iron but can sometimes be brass.

I believe some planes were manufactured with the metal sole or partial metal sole and manufacturers may have also sold the metal sole parts separately so individual users could use the parts to repair / upgrade their wooden planes.

The design of the British wooden smoothing plane stayed pretty constant throughout its time. There were some examples of where manufacturers / users had innovated and made modifications with the most common one being adding a rear handle (usually an open rear handle but sometimes a closed rear handle) to the rear of the plane to offer more leverage and control.

wooden smoothing plane with rear handle

These rear handled designs, particularly the wooden planes with closed rear handles, often resembled the handles on old infill planes such as the Norris smoothing infill planes.

Planes With No Name and Apprenticeships

Numerous wooden smoothing planes which appear today do not have a manufacturers mark on them. The reason for this can be one of two main reasons:

1) the name has worn off or being sanded off through the history of the plane’s life.

2) the plane was made by an individual person.

I know from conversations I have had with various woodworkers of a certain age that it used to be part of their apprenticeship that they had to make a wooden smoothing plane.

I suspect this may have been the case for a long time. I know from a few Victorian books I have read that the apprentices used to have to learn on their feet which I am sure included making items for their toolkit often with off-cuts left from the master carpenters.

Wooden Smoothing Plane Manufacturers

There have been many, many manufacturers of old wooden smoothing planes, some of these makers include:

Marples (William)
Onion & Co
Preston (Edward)
Steadman & Son

The manufacturer's mark (if present) can virtually always be found on the front nose of the plane. If the plane is quite mucky or you hadn’t realised, this is the place to look to identify who made it and if you wish to delve deeper there are a few books out there to help identify the age of the plane.

The authority of these books has to be W L Goodman’s ‘British Planemakers fom 1700 – third edition’ book but be prepared to pay some money for this book as it is no longer available to buy new (at the time of writing this) and secondhand copies of the book are in demand.

New Wooden Smoothing Plane Manufacturers

There are a few makers in various places around the world who make new versions of this style of wooden smoothing plane, often with higher-end materials. There are also wooden smoothing planes of different design made by Japanese manufacturers and by European manufacturers such as ECE.

There is a wooden plane maker in England, UK who produces new wooden smoothing planes based upon the traditional wooden smoother planes (I believe they are made to order):

Philly Planes (England)


Manufactured Dates

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